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Preview: Sabres at Avalanche

Buffalo goaltender Robin Lehner makes eighth straight start; defenseman Erik Johnson, forward Rene Bourque return from injuries for Colorado

by Rick Sadowski / Correspondent

SABRES (26-24-10) at AVALANCHE (16-40-3)

TV: 10 p.m. ET; ALT, MSG-B, NHL.TV


Sabres team scope

Goaltender Robin Lehner will make his eighth consecutive start for the Buffalo Sabres, who are six points behind the New York Islanders for the second wild card into the Stanley Cup Playoffs from the Eastern Conference. Buffalo is coming off its five-day break following a 5-1 loss to the Chicago Blackhawks on Sunday. The Sabres practiced in Denver on Friday and had a morning skate Saturday. "It was good to get our legs going again, especially in altitude," said forward Ryan O'Reilly, who played his first six NHL seasons with the Colorado Avalanche. "The first time being in this arena and sitting in the room was really awkward, but being here now -- we've played against them three times already -- it's just another important game. We've discussed how good we have to play in order to get into the playoffs. This is a big game tonight to make a statement and to get back on track." Coach Dan Bylsma said playing in altitude could be more of a concern than usual after having a week off. "It's a little compounding issue," he said. "Having five days off is a lot, but playing in altitude is always an adjustment, always an issue, one we're going to have to pay close attention to tonight, our shifts, how long we're on the ice, not getting caught out in tough situations." The Sabres are 3-1-0 in their past four games.  


Avalanche team scope

Defenseman Erik Johnson will return to the Colorado Avalanche lineup after missing 36 games with a broken fibula he sustained against the Dallas Stars on Dec. 3. Forward Rene Bourque also will play after missing 11 games with head and neck injuries, sustained against the Los Angeles Kings on Feb. 1. "It will be good to get some fresh bodies in the lineup, guys that are both hungry to get back in our lineup," coach Jared Bednar said. "So we're looking forward to it." Johnson was injured when he blocked a shot by Stars forward Tyler Seguin, and will wear extra padding as a precaution. "In hindsight, I wish I had it before, but those are the kind of adjustments you make after the fact when things like that happen," Johnson said. "It feels good and I wouldn't be saying I'm ready to go if it wasn't perfect." Johnson is expected to be paired with Francois Beauchemin. Bourque was injured on a hit by Kings defenseman Brayden McNabb. "I feel like I'm ready to step in and hopefully help the team out a little bit," said Bourque, who will play on the fourth line. Goalie Calvin Pickard will start. The Avalanche are 1-6-1 in their past eight games and 7-20-2 at home. Colorado is 1-for-17 on the power play in its past seven games.


Sabres projected lineup

Justin Bailey -- Ryan O'Reilly -- Kyle Okposo

Evander Kane -- Jack Eichel -- Sam Reinhart

Marcus Foligno -- Zemgus Girgensons -- Brian Gionta

Matt Moulson -- Evan Rodrigues -- Tyler Ennis

Jake McCabe -- Rasmus Ristolainen

Dmitry Kulikov -- Zach Bogosian

Josh Gorges -- Cody Franson 

Robin Lehner

Anders Nilsson

Scratched: Nicholas Baptiste, Nicolas Deslauriers, Justin Falk

Injured: William Carrier (knee), Johan Larsson (wrist)


Avalanche projected lineup

Gabriel Landeskog -- Nathan MacKinnon -- Matt Nieto

Blake Comeau -- Matt Duchene -- Mikko Rantanen

Mikhail Grigorenko -- John Mitchell -- Jarome Iginla

Andreas Martinsen -- Carl Soderberg -- Rene Bourque

Fedor Tyutin -- Tyson Barrie

Francois Beauchemin -- Erik Johnson

Patrick Wiercioch -- Mark Barberio

Calvin Pickard

Jeremy Smith

Scratched: Joe Colborne, Cody Goloubef

Injured: Nikita Zadorov (broken ankle), Semyon Varlamov (hip surgery)


Status report

The Sabres activated Girgensons from injured reserve; he missed seven games with a middle-body injury. They recalled Bailey and Rodrigues from Rochester of the American Hockey league and reassigned forward Derek Grant.


Who's hot

Eichel has assists in four straight games and 10 points (one goal, nine assists) in his past eight games. … Kane has eight points (seven goals, one assist) in his past seven games. … Ristolainen has an assist in five consecutive games. … Rantanen has three goals in his past four games. 

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